What does ‘Christian’ mean?

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For here we do not have an enduring city … Hebrews 13:14

Here’s where the Christian subculture went off the rails some time ago. Of course by the Christian subculture I’m speaking of that part of the global church that has gained cultural significance as a moral and political force in society — with an issue-oriented message that has overshadowed the gospel message that once rallied Jesus Freaks around Christ. It’s a subculture that is preoccupied with creating its own safe place in the world, and leads with fear and not faith.

It’s pretty simple, really. We missed this verse. Many are trying to create an enduring city right here in America, and it has led to all sorts of unholy alliances and unhealthy practices in order to buy into what would make us successful in this world while still trying to hold onto an eternal city in heaven. It can’t be done. Too many compromises; too many trade-offs; and too many concessions to worldly systems and governments which will never be able to service the kingdom of God.  

Here we do not have an enduring city so why are we trying to create one? We need to disengage ourselves from this alternative culture we’ve created and get back to the gospel story and to loving people into the kingdom. Let’s return to getting back out into the world (yes, the unsafe, scary one) and introducing the gospel of welcome — grace turned outward — to everyone everywhere. 

I received an encouraging email over the weekend from Jeff who had read some of my early writings and then lost track of us. Upon rediscovering the Catch, he stumbled onto the Catch Ministry’s Declaration of a Marketplace Christian and was blown away by the fact that early comments on that piece ten years ago showed that it was still relevant to today. In fact, I’m going to include it here in its entirety because I believe it’s a touchstone we need to return to periodically — (I do) — to refresh our memory.

“I want to say thank you for pioneering,” Jeff wrote, “and for being open and obedient to sharing these truths. To be brought back to this article today has been life to my heart as my own family has struggled to navigate living as we feel Jesus would in a time when being a ‘Christian’ means so many different things to so many people.”

Yes it does, Jeff, and it’s time for “Christian” to mean only one thing — that here is a person who follows Christ, who, among other things, is kind to all, who loves his/her enemies, who will go the extra mile for you and give you the shirt off his back, and who is characterized by hope in a hopeless world, and who will be thrilled to tell you why, and they do this all through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in them. This is all we need to know about Christians, for here we do not have an enduring city.

Declaration of a Marketplace Christian

Whereas  We are followers of Christ who are wary about things that are given the cultural label “Christian”; and

Whereas  “Christian” has become a term that has more to do with how one aligns oneself politically and socially, or how one behaves in relation to certain cultural mores, than it does with anything of the heart; and

Whereas:   We want to be Christians – but with a new definition;

We have come to the following conclusions:

We are not trying to create a place of safety in the world. Instead, we have found a place in our hearts where Christ dwells, and this gives us courage to face the world as it is.

We realize our overall purpose is not to change the world (that kind of thing is beyond our control), but it is to bring comfort, peace, warmth, love, and aid to people who are in the world, in the name of Jesus and His gospel.

Even if we were able to control the moral standards of society we understand that we would not necessarily be furthering the cause of Christ by making people better. In fact, we recognize a selfish motive in wanting a better world so we can have a safer environment in which to live and raise our own families. This gives no regard to the fact that “better” people without Christ still perish in their sins. A more moral society means little or nothing if people do not come into relationship with Christ.

We may not look or talk like traditional Christians because we hang around non-Christians a lot and have learned to play down our differences rather than exploit them, as some Christians before us. We have discovered that by identifying with sinners we are in a better position to introduce them to Christ than when we remain separate and aloof because we think we are “different” (which usually translates to “better” in their minds). The only people who are looking for perfect Christians to model their lives after are other Christians who have bought the lie that perfection is attainable.

We will not be offended by the language and behavior of non-Christians. We realize, because we know ourselves, that sinners sin. There is no reason to be appalled at this. If we were perfect and had no sin of our own, we could be appalled, but we are not without sin. The only thing that should offend us is the same thing that offended Jesus: self-righteous hypocrisy. We realize that in choosing to be offended by the normal behavior of non-Christians, we are turning ourselves into the very thing Jesus hated. We, who are worried about being offended, make ourselves an offense to God.

We have decided not to put any real stock in having famous people endorse Jesus and have concluded we would be happier having Jesus endorse us. Character is superior to fame and glory.

We realize that we live in a world dominated by secular minds and philosophies. Because of our love for all people and our desire for them to know the love of Christ, we choose to learn about and interact with these philosophies rather than categorically reject them. When it becomes obvious that we have to part ways with the world to avoid compromise of our beliefs, we will do this in such a way as to not judge others who don’t feel as we do.

Though our hearts are connected to eternity, our feet are firmly planted on earth. For this reason we will strategize, barter, study and grow in two kingdoms. We have found that these two kingdoms need not always be warring against each other. We have found the things of God in the earthly world, and we have found evil in the kingdom of heaven, just as the parables of Jesus indicated we would.

We have learned to appreciate the artistic expressions of those who may not be following Christ. We will not begin with the assumption that they are wrong so that we can condemn them, but with the belief that they are right about something so that we can communicate with those who value their work.

We will not be threatened by “other paths to God” knowing that there is only one God and one way to reach Him, and if people are truly seeking Him, they will ultimately find their way to Christ even if they started out by way of another path.

We believe that wherever we go, God got there first. This means at least three things:

  1. There is always something to find and embrace in the world, since God’s truth is everywhere.
  2. We are never alone because there is nowhere we can go on earth or in heaven where God is not present.
  3. There are many shoulders people are riding on other than our own. We do not have to finish everyone’s search; we are merely helping them along the way. If we happen to be there when someone comes to Christ, we will be overjoyed, but we will realize we are only part of a long line of witnesses who have prepared the way.

We do not have to determine whether a person is a Christian or a non-Christian before we know how to talk with him or her.  We speak to everyone in a universal language. Some may be drawn to us; others may be repelled. We do not know who is who – nor is it our responsibility to figure this out; we only point the way.

We can be fearless in the world because we know that Jesus is praying for our protection (John 17:15), and there is no power on earth or in heaven that can stand against Him.

Therefore, and for all these reasons, we do not have to hide in a subculture, nor do we have to spend all our efforts fighting society. We are not at war with the world. We love the world as God does because it is full of people for whom He gave His Son so that those who believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.

Since Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, neither will we. And since, instead, Jesus came to save the world, we will put all our efforts to that end, knowing that He has already completed all the work necessary to save people. It remains only for us to let them know.

This entry was posted in kingdom of God, Marketplace Christian, Worldview and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What does ‘Christian’ mean?

  1. Toni Petrella says:

    So true about the word Christian that it should only refer to following Christ and that has been the way from the beginning. He came for all of us as we are and not what some folks feel others should be. Salvation thru him gives us hope that the best is yet to come but, we will all see that one day.

  2. Gary Mintchell says:

    Thank you for this, John. I’ve been gently trying to get this type of message out, but you nailed it. We are to make disciples, which I take to be (in modern terms) a mentoring process. The Acts 2 church grew because people wanted to be like these people newly filled with the spirit. Oh, to be like that.

  3. Mark Dennis Seguin says:

    Love Today’s Catch, yet can someone please help me to know where I can find this verse: “… we have found evil in the kingdom of heaven, just as the parables of Jesus indicated we would”?.

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